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Without a doubt, what you eat and drink during the last few days and hours before the Boston Marathon makes a difference. By eating wisely and well, you can enjoy lasting energy without hitting the wall! Here are eight last minute nutrition tips for enhancing endurance.


1. Carbo-load, don't fat-load.

Carbohydrate-rich foods include cereals, fruits, juices, breads, rice, plain baked potatoes and pasta with tomato sauce. Lower carbohydrate choices include donuts, cookies, buttery potatoes, ice cream, cheesy lasagna and pepperoni pizza. These fat-laden foods may taste great and fill your stomach but fat does not get stored as muscle fuel.


2. No last minute hard training.

By resting your muscles and doing very little exercise this pre-event week, your muscles will have the time they need to store the carbohydrates and become fully saturated with glycogen (carbohydrate). You can only fully carbo-load if you stop exercising hard! You can tell if your muscles are well carbo-loaded if you have gained 2 to 4 pounds pre-event. Your muscles store three ounces of water along with each ounce of carbohydrate. (This water will be released during the event and be put to good use.)


3. No last minute dieting.

You can't fully carbo-load your muscles if you are dieting and restricting your calories. You will have greater stamina and endurance if you are well fueled, as compared to the dieter who may be a few pounds lighter but has muscles that are suboptimally carbo-loaded. Remember: you are supposed to gain (water) weight pre-event!


4. Drink extra fluids.

You can tell if you are drinking enough fluids by monitoring your urine. You should be urinating frequently (every 2 to 4 hours); the urine should be clear colored and significant in volume. Juices are a good fluid choice because they provide not only water and carbohydrates but also nutritional value. Save the sports drinks for during the event.


5. Eat tried-and-true foods.

If you drastically change your food choices (such as carbo-load by eating several extra bananas), you may end up with intestinal distress. Simply eat a comfortable portion of the tried-and-true carbohydrates you've enjoyed during training. You need not stuff yourself! If you will be traveling to a far away event, plan ahead so you can maintain a familiar eating schedule despite a crazy travel schedule.


6. Eat a moderate amount of fiber.

If you stuff yourself with lots of white bread, bagels, crackers, pasta and other foods made with refined white flour, you may end up constipated. Include enough fiber to promote regular bowel movements––but not too much fiber or you'll have the opposite problem! Moderate amounts of whole wheat bread, bran cereal, fruits and vegetables are generally good choices. (If you are concerned about diarrhea, limit your intake of high fiber foods and instead consume more of the refined breads and pastas.)


7. Eat the morning of the Marathon.

You'll need this fuel to maintain a normal blood sugar level. Although your muscles are well stocked from the foods you've eaten the past few days, your brain gets fuel only from the limited amount of sugar in your blood. When you nervously toss and turn the night before the event, you can deplete your blood sugar and, unless you eat carbs, you will start the event with low blood sugar. Your performance will go downhill from there...

    Plan to replace the energy lost during the (sleepless) night with an early breakfast, as well as a pre-marathon snack at 9:00ish, as tolerated. You’ll have time to digest this food before the 10:00-10:40 a.m. Boston Marathon start. This fuel will help you avoid hitting the wall.

    Stick with tried-and-true pre-exercise foods: oatmeal, cereal, bagel, toast, banana, energy bars and/or juice. These carb-based foods invest in fueling the brain, as well as staving off hunger. If a pre-event breakfast will likely upset your system, eat extra food the night before. That is, eat your breakfast at 10:00 pm before you go to bed.


8. Consume carbs during the event.

During the Marathon, you'll have greater stamina if you consume not only water, but also some carbohydrates, such as sports drinks, gels, bananas or dried fruit. Depending on your body size and how hard you exercise, you should target about 150 to 350 calories/hour after the first hour to avoid hitting the wall (For example, that's 24 ounces sports drink/hour.) The slower you run, the more you need to fuel yourself during the event. Some athletes boost their energy intake by drinking diluted juices or defizzed cola; others suck on gummi candies, mints, chomps, gels, or eat chunks of energy bar, dried pineapple, and other easily chewed and digested foods along the way. Your muscles welcome this food; it gets digested and used for fuel during the event. And hopefully, you will have experimented during training to learn what settles best...


For more information:

Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions

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Afraid to eat nuts because they are “fattening”?


Fear not. Nut-eaters are not fatter than people who avoid nuts. Rather, nut–eaters might be healthier.  Nuts offer health-protective phytochemicals that reduce inflammation. People who eat nuts and nut-butters (such as peanut butter and almond butter) more than five times a week reduce their risk of heart disease. Consuming 2 ounces (two handfuls) of nuts a day can reduce blood cholesterol by 5%.


The more nuts you eat, the better heart-health response you will get, as long as you stay within your calorie budget. Walnuts are particularly good fro heart-health because they contain ALA, an omega-3 fat. For more information about the health protective properties of nuts, go to


Here's a tip for how to enjoy more walnuts:

Line a baking sheet with foil. Sprinkle on a layer of walnuts. Drizzle the walnuts with honey or maple syrup. Bake at 325-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the nuts are smell aromatic and look toasted. Occasionally stir the nuts during that time. Cool, store in an airtight container, and enjoy a handful for snacks or sprinkle them on top of cereal or yogurt.

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Carbs by the grams

Posted by Nancy Clark RD CSSD Mar 16, 2011

This past weekend I attended a state-of-the-art sports nutrition conference sponsored by SCAN, the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists practice group of the American Dietetic Association. I had the pleasure of listening to the top researchers offer their latest sports nutrition news. Here’s what researcher and registered dietitian Louise Burke, PhD, Director of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, had to say about carbohydrates.



•  Don’t try to calculate a diet according to “percentage of carbohydrates”—such as a diet with 60% of the calories from carbs (a typical recommendation for athletes). Rather, define your daily carbohydrate needs in terms of grams per pound (or kilogram) body weight. The guidelines developed by the International Olympic Committee are:

Low intensity exercise:                      1.5 to 2.5 g Carb/lb        (3-5 g Carb/kg)

Moderate exercise (~1 hour/day):      2.5 to 3 g Carb/lb           (5-7 g Carb/kg

Endurance exercise (1-3 hours/day):  2.5 to 4.5 g Carb/lb       (6-10 g Carb/kg)

Extreme exercise (>4-5 h/day):          3.5 to 5.5 g Carb/lb       (8-12 g Carb/kg)


Hence, if you are a serious athlete who weighs 150 pounds and trains for 2 hours a day, you’d need about 375 to 675 g carbohydrate per day. One grams of carbohydrate offers 4 calories, so this equates to 1,500 to 2,700 calories of carb to fully fuel (and refuel) your muscles. This is more carbohydrate than many endurance athletes tend to consume when eating on the run.


• By hitting your carbohydrate targets, you can restore depleted glycogen stores within 24 to 36 hours post exercise.



* If you will be exercising for less than 45 minutes, you have no need to consume carbs (such as a sports drink) during exercise. What you eat pre-exercise will carry you through the workout.


• If you will be exercising for 1 to 2.5 hours, you should target 30 to 60 grams carbohydrate per hour. Your pre-exercise snack should carry you for the first hour, and then you’ll want to target 120 to 240 calories of carbohydrate per hour thereafter. This equates to 120 to 240 calories from carbohydrate.


• If you will be exercising for more than 2.5 hours, you should target 60 to 90 grams of a variety of carbohydrate per hour (as tolerated). That’s 240 to 360 calories from sports drinks, dried pineapple, gels, gummi bears, and other carbs that taste good and settle well.  Be sure to practice fueling during training, so you know what foods and fluids work well – and what ones don’t!


Fuel wisely and perform well!


For more information:

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

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Do you have food(s) that you try to stay away from because you fear you will overeat it once you start with a small bite?

For many of my clients, cookies, peanut butter, and bagels fit into this category of “trouble foods.”  These hungry athletes try to stay away from these “fattening foods.” They believe that eating, let’s say, one cookie will lead to eating 200 cookies, and they will end up  getting instantly fat. Sound familiar?


If a food has too much power over you, try this experiment (as suggested in the book Beating Your Eating Disorder):

• Weigh yourself (first thing in the morning) on Day 1 of the experiment.

• Make one dietary change that you are sure will make you get fat (such as eating a big cookie at breakfast).

• Maintain this one change for 7 days (without making any other food or exercise changes), then weigh yourself again.

• Repeat this experiment for another 7 days. Take the average of the weights. (Weight fluctuates due to shifts in water.)

Have you gotten fat? Doubtful.


Take note: if the scale has gone up a tiny bit, the gain is likely due to replenishment of depleted muscle glycogen (carb) stores. For each one ounce of carbs stored in your muscles as glycogen, you also store about three ounces of water. Hence, do not obsess about a number on the scale. Rather, observe how much better you feel during the day and also during your workout.


While food experiments sound like a good idea, the reality is they can be very anxiety provoking and hard work. Eating more calories is hard because you are giving up control without being sure you will feel better in the long run. To learn how to take the power away from trigger foods, try reading Beating Your Eating Disorder. Other self-help books are available at


Just imagine how nice life will be for you and your loved ones when you can wake up without food fears and rigid food rules…  this is a change worth making!


Eat wisely and be well,



For additional reading: Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, chapter on Dieting Gone Awry.

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Nancy. I’ve heard I should eat a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein right after I exercise, but I don't know what that looks like in terms of food. So, to be safe, I buy commercial recovery foods and drinks to be sure I get the right ratio. Are there other options?


Answer: The goal in a sports diet is to consume about three or four times more calories from carbs than from protein. The ratio need not be exact. You just don’t want to consume a heavy amount of protein that displaces carbs (i.e., if you fill up on a big steak, you are not filling up on pasta). You also do not want heavy recovery foods (high fat, high protein, such as a burger) that sit in the stomach and slowly digest.


Commercial recovery foods and beverages are more about convenience than necessity. You can enjoyably refuel with chocolate milk, fruit yogurt, a sandwich, or pasta with meat sauce. By backing your workout into a carb-based sports meal (such as spaghetti with meat balls, stir-fried chicken and veggies with lots of rice), you'll get more carbs than protein, and plenty of fuel for your muscles.


Whether or not a protein-carb recovery beverage is superior to a carb-only beverage remains questionable. In a recent study (Green, 2008) in which athletes drank either a carb or a carb-protein recovery drink immediately after muscle-damaging downhill running, both beverages offered a similar recovery process over the course of three days. The authors conclude the meals that they ate (in addition to the recovery drink) in those post-exercise days supplied the protein and carbs needed to recover.


You won’t go wrong by refueling soon after exercise with a carb-protein combination if you done exhausting exercise and aren't yet ready to eat a meal. If you prefer engineered foods because they are convenient, buy them. But if you prefer the wholesome goodness of chocolate milk, yogurt and a banana, a fruit smoothie (milk, banana, berries), a bowl of cereal, and other tasty protein-carb combinations, save your money and enjoy real food instead. And remember, immediately consuming recovery foods is most important for the athlete who has exhausted him or herself and will be exercising again within the next six hours. Fitness exercisers need not get obsessed!




Green MS, Corona BT, Doyle JA, Ingalls CP. Carbohydrate-protein drinks do not enhance recovery from exercise-induced muscle injury. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008;18(1):1-18.


For more information: Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

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Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Member since: Jul 8, 2007

Hi! I specialize in nutrition for exercise, and help active people figure out how to manage food, weight, exercise, energy and enjoyment of eating. Let me know if you have any questions!

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